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Trump downplays projections TRANSCRIPT: 5/5/20, MSNBC Live

Guests: Phil Murphy, Patrice Harris, Anita Kumar, Stephen Chambers, Tabari Wallace

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us. You`ve been watching THE BEAT Ari Melber. Please rejoin us tomorrow at 6:00 P.M. Eastern if you are out.

And don`t go anywhere. Keep it right here right now on MSNBC.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in New York.

President Trump continues to hail the efforts of states to reopen. New polls show that Americans themselves are deeply apprehensive about the prospect of the reopening process.

Today, the United States passed another grim milestone. There are now 70,000 deaths and counting from this virus. As the administration shifts its public focus toward the economy, Trump himself suggested today, there will be an imminent winding down of the White House coronavirus task force.

Sources familiar with the planning tell NBC News, quote, the meetings in the situation room have been shorter and they no longer meet every day. Doctors Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci are still expected to be at the White House on a daily basis, but other members of the task force may be less physically present. . Today, President Trump made his first trip away from the White House in more than a month. He headed to Phoenix today to tour a facility that makes N95 masks.

As he tries to project a return to normalcy, a new poll shows that Americans are very anxious about the return to normal life. A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll asked which businesses should be allowed to reopen. The overwhelming majority of those polled said no to all of them being allowed to reopen right now.

And we should note though, this poll did not ask about the various restrictions that states are placing on the reopening of businesses, such as limiting capacity to 50 percent or less and requiring social distancing.

And in terms of their own readiness to become customers again, two-thirds in the poll said that they would be uncomfortable shopping in a retail clothing store, while 78 percent say that they wouldn`t go to a restaurant.

Today, the governor of the state hardest hit, New York`s Andrew Cuomo, characterized the debate facing governors across the country.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Fundamental question, which we`re not articulating, is how much is a human life worth? The faster we reopen, the lower the economic cost, but the higher the human cost, because the more lives lost.


KORNACKI: And the Associated Press noted that while the New York metropolitan area has seen a decline in new cases, quote, the numbers show the rest of the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction, with a known infection rate rising as states move to lift their lockdowns.

And I`m joined now by the Governor of New Jersey, another state very hard- hit by all this, Phil Murphy. Governor, thank you for joining us. I appreciate it.

We`re talking about this question of reopening, and I always like to frame this by pointing out that none of the states that are doing this are just saying, okay, open the doors, let everybody in back to normal. What you`re seeing are all of these various restrictions, maximum capacity, 25 percent, maximum 50 percent, staff must wear masks, all of these sorts of things.

With that in mind, when we talk about reopening in your state, how far away are you, do you think, from entering the first initial phase, where you allow some form, not the entire thing, but some form of businesses reopening? Is this days, weeks, months? How far away do you think it is?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): Steve, good to be with you.

I think it`s weeks. We`ve already taken some baby steps. We opened county and state parks this past weekend. We opened golf with some strict parameters. Folks overwhelmingly, as they had been in New Jersey all along, complied with social distancing and not congregating, but we`re still in the fight.

We announced over 300 fatalities today. We have over 8,000 blessed lost lives. The curves are getting better, the positive test curve, the hospitalizations are down, the ICU beds, the ventilator use is down, but I think it`s a matter of weeks.

I hope we can continue to take baby steps, as I said, about the parks. I hope we can take more of those. We`ve got the beach season coming up here on the Jersey Shore. We`ve got other steps that we`re looking at, but we`ve got to do it responsibly. We had 300 some people go into hospitals with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Again, so we`re getting there. The curves look better, but we`re not out of the woods yet.

KORNACKI: While on this subject, this balancing act here of lives, of the economic wreckage from all of this, in an interview with ABC News just a short time ago, the president was asked about the prospect of an increase in deaths as more states move toward reopening parts of their economies. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: It`s possible there will be some, because you won`t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is, but at the same time, we`re going to practice social distancing, we`re going to be washing hands, we`re going to be doing a lot of the things that we`ve learned to do over the last period of time and we have to get our country back.


KORNACKI: Also on a podcast on Monday, Governor, your predecessor, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, said that Americans may have to accept the sacrifices involved in the reopening. Take a listen to that.


FMR. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): There are going to be deaths and there are going to be deaths no matter what. And if we can do things to keep people in the mode of wearing masks, of wearing gloves, of, you know, distancing where appropriate, we`ve got to let some of these folks get back to work, because if we don`t, we`re going to destroy the American way of life and these families and it will be years and years before we can recover.


KORNACKI: Governor, I`m curious, how do you think about this balance?

MUPRHY: Well, I`ll tell you, I -- count me in the camp of I want to die trying to save every life we can. And as I say, that shouldn`t be be -- it shouldn`t be either/or. We should be able to responsibly take steps like we took with state and county parks this weekend and at the same time fight for every precious life.

You know, I speak with families of lost loved ones every day, a number of times a day, and I`ll tell you, if you were in those conversations and you heard the beautiful lives that we`ve lost, the lives that were lived, I don`t know how you couldn`t find a way to value every single life we can and try to save every single life we can. That doesn`t mean we can`t take steps responsibly.

I`m all-in for social distancing, believe me. Wearing masks, I think, is a smart move and any move when you go outside of your house. New Jersey`s complied overwhelmingly so far, thank God. We got to continue to do that and we`re going -- there`s no price too high to save every life that we can save.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you a little bit about this, because this seems to me like a very, very difficult and complicated question, but if the experts that we`re hearing from are correct, that we are a long ways away from having a vaccine for this virus that can eradicate it, potentially, that we are a long way away even from having enough treatments, where if this is something you get, it`s not big deal, here`s a drug, you`re all set. We`re a long way away from that.

It seems that anything in short of sheltering in place until we get there is going to come with more risk, more cases and more deaths. Even if that is very limited opening, all sorts of restrictions on it, is there a truth at the core of this debate that anything short of sheltering in place, before you get to a vaccine, is going to come with some human cost?

MURPHY: There`s no question, Steve, there`s risk. There`s no question. And, frankly, if we batted 1,000 and we got every step right, these sorts of viruses, based on all the medical and health input that we`ve gotten, are very capable of coming back through the backdoor again and reemerging perhaps even more strongly.

I just think we have to be responsible about this. We can`t be cavalier. This can never be a mathematical exercise. Let`s open the economy and we`re going to accept that we`re going to lose X thousands of lives. I think you can, again, take steps responsibly.

And, by the way, we put a six-point recovery, road to recovery plan in place, four of them are healthcare steps, drive the curves down, increase testing dramatically, contact tracing, both boots on the ground and technology, as well as plans for isolation. Those are all within our reach over the next number of weeks.

And if you have that in place, I think you not only have confidence in leadership, more importantly, you give folks confidence to say, you know what, I feel like I can come out -- I can come out again and that risk is there, but it`s a lot lower.

KORNACKI: One more issue I want to talk about, because you mentioned county parks in your state opening over the weekend, golf courses opening, this is an issue that states all across the country are about to face. The temperature is warming up, folks have been inside for a long time, they are okay with the economic hit they`re taking, they just want to get outside.

This is something you`re going to have to deal with, in fact, in the summer, the Jersey Shore, the question of, do you allow folks to go to the Jersey Shore and just get to the beach and get some air there? What are your experts telling you on terms of the safety of opening up outdoor spaces for people this summer like the beach?

MURPHY: Yes, Steve, the reality with an outdoor decision is a lot better reality than an indoor decision. So the notion of a bunch of folks cramped indoors in some configuration, I don`t see any time soon. So whatever the restrictions may be on capacities, distancing, gloves, masks, ultra hygiene steps, et cetera.

Outside, I think you get more degrees of freedom. So we`ve seen it in parks. I think you can hopefully see a similar reality in beaches. One of things we did by example with parks, we limited parking capacity to 50 percent at all county and state parks. You could see limiting capacity, as you know, because you know Jersey, the Jersey Shore.

And virtually, every case, you`ve got to pay to get on the beach. Well, maybe you limit capacity through the amount of daily passes or monthly or seasonal passes that you sell, that you enforce social distancing at least between or among clusters of families.

So, we`re kicking those issues around, again, outdoors, you got more degrees of freedom, the experts will tell you, than you do as it relates to decisions you make in indoor locations.

KORNACKI: All right. Governor Phil Murphy from New Jersey, thank you, as always, for taking a few minutes. I appreciate it.

MUPRHY: Great to be with you, Steve.

KORNACKI: All right.

And as we mentioned earlier, the president was in Arizona today, as he launches the recovery phase of the pandemic. That state`s health department announced its second highest number of cases today. Over the past week, there have been 98 coronavirus deaths in Arizona. Now, the week before, there were 84.

President Trump has revised his own fatality estimate as the death tally has continued to rise at a significant rate. Vice President Pence told reporters that the United States is still not out of the woods on the outbreak.

Scott Gottlieb, the former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Trump, warned Americans that the high infection rate is the new normal.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: We still have a high level of infection in this country. We`ve reached a plateau, but we haven`t seen the kind of declines that we were expecting to see at this point. And as we start to reopen the country, cases are likely to go up, not down. We`re likely to see those case counts start to increase.

I think we need to understand this may be the new normal. We may not be able to get transmission down much more. I hope we can.


KORNACKI: And for more, I`m joined by Dr. Patrice Harris, President of the American Medical Association. Dr. Harris, thank you for joining us.

The new normal, a lot of folks are asking, what exactly that means and for how long? What`s your sense of that?

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, there`s no way, A, to predict how long we will be in the holding pattern that we are in now. In fact, again, across this country, we see some areas, some counties where the cases are decreasing, hospitalizations are decreasing, but others where it is increasing. And we will have to accept this variety. We will have to continue to make sure we have the science and the evidence and have that drive our decisions regarding reopening, regarding how many tests we need.

We really have to make sure that while we are waiting on treatments, waiting on vaccines, we are doing what we know now to best mitigate the spread of the virus. and that is the social distancing, physical distancing, staying in unless you absolutely have to go out, and really having a measured, phased approach to opening.

KORNACKI: That`s the question here, I think too. You have these different states that are approaching it differently. And then when you look within states, you see differences within states, as well. We`re mentioning this too. I get a little frustrated. The debate sounds like reopen everything or keep sheltered in place until there`s a vaccine. It sounds like there`re these two polls.

And I feel there`s a vast middle ground here where, is it 25 percent capacity at businesses, everybody has to wear gloves and masks, you need reservations. What is your sense of some of the steps being taken? Do you think it is -- there are, in places where you`re not seeing the large case load right now, do you think it`s worthy, do you think it`s responsible to be taking the steps that we`re seeing?

HARRIS: Steve, I have to agree with you. Too often, we end up with the either/or and it is not. It is in the middle. And that`s why, really, not only states, but even cities and counties within states, need to be able to make a decision based on what their data is saying. If there is a county that has a particular -- that is a particular hotspot, has a high number of cases, they will certainly want to be slower in reopening, as opposed to a county where there`s none.

There`s a caveat to that though. You have to make sure that you do know what is happening in your particular location and that requires testing. And as you know, even though we have improved, we still don`t have the robust testing capacity that we need.

And, by the way, when we say testing capacity, that means the full scope of what you need to test. That includes the tracing and the tracking and what I call supported isolation. Not everybody will be able to isolate on their own and we have to make sure that that is supported.

So variability is fine. It`s just we have to make sure that the decisions are based on the data.

KORNACKI: I want to ask you, as well, about how this affects the folks you represent, doctors and physicians across this country. The New York Times reporting that small physician practices are now struggling to survive. According to The Times, quote, across the country, only half of primary care doctor practices say they have enough cash to stay open for the next four weeks. Many are already laying off or furloughing workers. By another estimate, as many as 60,000 physicians in family medicine may no longer be working in their practices by June because of the pandemic.

This is an interesting piece of this. There was such a shift in terms of medical resource in this country, to being prepared for this thing to take hold, to have, you know hospitals be ready to have capacity for this, that has meant in a lot of places. Elective surgeries have been suspended. Patients aren`t coming in for a lot of concerns they otherwise would have.

What are your members telling you? Do they want to see elective surgeries return now in places where you don`t have surgeons in the hospital? Do they want to see patients visiting with doctors? What do they tell you? What do you want to see happen here?

HARRIS: Well, Steve, this is something that we have been concerned about since the very beginning at the American Medical Association. And absolutely at the beginning, we certainly reduced our hours, physicians reduced their office hours, they eliminated elective procedures, of course, unless there were particular urgent needs. But we`ve been worried about this, which is why we advocated hard for financial support.

Oftentimes, small physician practices are economic drivers in communities, again, which speaks to the point that if we are taking measured approaches, the opening of physician practices and offices should be first on the list. And so, yes, we should, particularly for areas where their case count is lower, where their infection is lower, they have the testing capacity, they have the PPE. Don`t forget, that as elective surgeries move on, we need the PPE.

But certainly we are glad that this is getting the attention that it deserves. We want to make sure practices are viable. There`s a lot of pent up medical demand. People -- patients have postponed procedures and we need all the support that we can get to make sure practices are viable.

KORNACKI: All right. Dr. Patrice Harris from the American Medical Association, thank you for joining us. I appreciate that.

And coming up, a whistleblower complaint is filed by the doctor removed from his job, excuse me, leading America`s effort to find a vaccine. His allegations include politically-motivated decision-making, corporate influence and retribution. Stay with us.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

A top official at the Department of Health and Human Services today filed a whistle-blower complaint, saying he was removed from his job at the agency developing a coronavirus vaccine in an alleged act of retaliation, charging -- quote -- "gross mismanagement at the department."

Dr. Richard Bright says he warned of the coronavirus threat in January, but -- quote -- "encountered indifference, which then developed into hostility, from HHS leadership."

He alleges he was involuntarily transferred to another job -- quote -- "for his objections and resistance to funding potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections and by the administration itself."

Among those drugs, he says, was hydroxychloroquine, which the president has advocated as a treatment for the coronavirus. Dr. Bright says that, on the day he was removed, the FDA advised against the drug`s use outside hospitals or clinical trials, citing its reported link to heart problems.

A recent study involving 368 patients at a veterans hospital found -- quote -- "more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine vs. standard care."

Yet the president has continued to defend its efficacy, doing so as recently as Sunday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don`t lose anything with hydroxy. It`s been out there.

Bret, it`s been out there for so many years. Then they start doing the false reports, it`s making people -- it`s been used for numerous things for many years. People aren`t dying from it.

And -- but they would rather...

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Obviously, doctors are involved there. And they`re...

TRUMP: Yes, they don`t want to see a good result. And that`s very sad.

BAIER: Let me ask.


KORNACKI: Dr. Bright will also be testifying before Congress next week, according to a spokesperson.

I`m joined now by Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief at "The Washington Post." And Anita Kumar is White House correspondent for Politico.

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

All right, Phil, take us through exactly -- put it this way. Who is Bright in the scheme of the federal government here? And when he says retaliation, who exactly is he saying it comes from? Take us through the guts of this complaint.

PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, so Dr. Bright was one of the leading health officials in the United States government.

He was in charge of the team that develops vaccines for infectious diseases such as this one. And he was sidelined early in the pandemic situation. And he claims in his complaint it`s because of retaliation for him speaking out inside the government, for him challenging what the president was advocating when it comes to hydroxychloroquine.

He name-checked the health secretary, Alex Azar, as downplaying the threat of the coronavirus early on in January, when there were warnings within the government, and, of course, intelligence coming in from China about the spread of the virus there.

And he really lays blame at this administration for not prioritizing the facts and the science and the medical data, but instead looking for political efficiency.

KORNACKI: So, Anita, this is what Bright is saying. What is the response from the administration? And what are you hearing from around the administration? Are they concerned about this?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO: Well, what they`re -- they`re not actually saying very much about it.

The Health and Human -- Department of Health and Human Services just put out a statement that really didn`t address the allegations. But this is obviously not coming at a -- this is not coming at a good time for him to come in front of Congress, when the president and the vice president and the administration is pushing that things are going well, that they did a good job.

This is going to show, if true, these allegations that we have heard about for the last couple months that newspapers and others have reported, but this is going to put a face with that. It`s going to actually go into details about the things that we have been hearing the last couple months.

I mean, I think one of the things that`s sort of the most telling, as Phil just mentioned, is that this talks about how the administration did not take this seriously in January. And that`s been sort of the center and the focus of a lot of these criticisms.

If they had taken this seriously, there would have been tests. There would have been medical supplies for the states, there would have been drugs already being worked on. And so it goes to the heart of the criticisms that President Trump has faced.

KORNACKI: And, Anita, just quickly, we say there`s going to be testimony, congressional testimony, next week.

Before who? And what do we expect from that?

KUMAR: Sure.

I mean, the House Democrats do want to look at this. The complaint is actually filed with an independent agency that looks at whistle-blower complaints. He`s actually asking for his job back, which is probably unlikely, and we`re not going to see all those details.

And so what the House Democrats are doing is saying that they want to hear from him in a committee, and they`re going to investigate. And I`m sure that this won`t be the last time that this will be coming before the House.

KORNACKI: OK, the president himself -- we mentioned this earlier in the show -- he ventured outside the White House today for the first time in over a month.

He was visiting a mask factory in Arizona. The trip is -- quote -- "the first in a number of stops to battleground states," according to aides and advisers who spoke NBC News.

And it`s intended in part -- quote -- "to give him an outlet, aside from the hours-long freewheeling news conferences that were starting to hurt his standing with voters."

The president tells "The New York Post" that those briefings will be back. But he made clear he really wants to get back on the campaign trail, saying this -- quote -- "I hope we`re going to be able to get to the rallies back before the election. I think that would be a big, big disadvantage to me if we didn`t."

Meanwhile -- excuse me.

And, Phil, so he`s back on the road. These are a far cry from the rallies we`re used to in front of tens of thousands of people. We talk about the White House trying to enter sort of a new phase here, where the focus is less on the daily sort of grim medical statistics and more on moving to a recovery phase.

Talk a little bit about what he`s trying to achieve here.

RUCKER: Well, that`s exactly, Steve, what he`s trying to achieve with this trip to Arizona today, is that he wanted -- the president wanted to create a visual of America reopening.

He wanted to show that he felt it was safe to get outside of the cocoon of the White House and venture out across the country. He showcased the state of Arizona and talked about their plans to return to some sense of normalcy, along with the governor there.

But this is all part of a messaging campaign by the White House, driven by the president, to have this shift towards the economy. And it is inconsistent with the data that we`re learning every single day here about the number of deaths, the fast spread of the disease, and the warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and other models that are predicting the death count to actually rise quite dramatically.

But the president is adamant about presenting this image of America returning to normal back to work and an economic revival that doesn`t exist at the moment.

KORNACKI: And, Anita, we talked too about this apparent winding-down of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. It may take a while here, the president seeming to suggest that`s happening, the vice president as well today.

The president also saying to "The New York Post," the briefings will be back, though. What is your sense, in terms of the medical messaging from the White House, what the next month or two is going to look like?

KUMAR: Well, I think we are seeing a shift.

He wants to talk about the economy and the recovery and the reopening of America. So, I think that`s what we`re going to see. We`re going to see him out on the road, maybe even weekly. We have seen the vice president start to do that.

I do think that there`s going to be briefings at the White House again. But they might be briefings by the White House press secretary, the new press secretary, who we saw do a briefing last week. We might see some briefings that are not on camera.

But I don`t know that we`re going to see, definitely not regularly, public health officials there at the White House doing that briefing. Remember, the task force, even as it`s winding down, some of those public health officials have already sort of split off a little bit from the task force and are doing their own thing, while the rest of the administration really focuses on the economy.

I`m understanding from inside the White House that a lot of decisions, immigration and other decisions, all are about the economy now, how to get the economy moving again.

And that`s really the focus that we`re going to see from the president.

KORNACKI: All right, Anita Kumar and Phil Rucker, thank you both for joining us.

And up next: States that are not yet reopening have a chance to learn from the states that are. So, what is working in the states that have begun taking reopening steps, and what is not?

Stay with us.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

Washington state today joined 36 other states that have begun lifting some restrictions to gradually reopen their economies.

As governors weigh the economic costs against the public safety, there is concern that opening too fast could lead to the loss of more lives.

Dr. Anthony Fauci gave this warning last night:


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It`s the balance of something that`s a very difficult choice. Like, how many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner, rather than later?


KORNACKI: In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee is now allowing restaurants and retail businesses to reopen with a maximum 50 percent capacity.

And joining me now from Tennessee is Trousdale County Mayor Stephen Chambers.

Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us. I appreciate it.

I`m glad to talk to you because I want to get a sense what this looks like on the ground. My sense is, when we talk about reopening, say businesses are opening up, I think people instinctively get this image of the doors flinging open, customers flooding back into stores and restaurants crowding together, and this just spreading so easily.

In Tennessee, as we mentioned, though, the rules are, restaurants and retail 50 percent capacity. Looks like employees and waitstaff have to have gloves and masks. Bars are closed.

What does that translate into on the ground? What does it look like in your community, this reopening?

STEPHEN CHAMBERS, MAYOR OF TROUSDALE COUNTY, TENNESSEE: Well, here in Trousdale County, a lot of the restaurants have decided to stay with what they`re doing a couple weeks ago, so they are not opening up their dining areas.

They`re doing takeout, curbside delivery, those kind of things. So instead of opening it up, as you said, and doing 50 percent capacity, they have opted to just stick with what they were done beforehand.

KORNACKI: So, how does that -- as an elected official worried about the spread of this and trying to contain this, how do you feel about how the -- again, we say reopening. You`re describing not a ton of activity there.

In terms of the safety of the public, how do you feel about how it`s going so far?

CHAMBERS: I think a lot of our businesspeople have been very proactive.

They were actually closing down the dining areas and putting in place the CDC guidelines before the governor ever issued any directives. So they have been very proactive about it. They know that, if you look at our numbers, it looks like we`re astronomical right now. However, that`s due to testing at a prison.

If you take those out, we only had 29 cases before then. I think a lot of people in our community have been very proactive, following the CDC guidelines. And I think, again, other than that spike at the prison, I think we`re doing a very good job. And I`m very proud of my community and what they have done to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

KORNACKI: Well, what would you like to see now?

If I understand this right, the restrictions -- a few more restrictions are going to be lifted in Tennessee tomorrow affecting barbershops, nail salons.

How do you feel about that? Would you like to see other restrictions lifted?

CHAMBERS: The regulations put in place, or the guidelines issued for the -- as you said, the close-contact businesses, salons, they`re actually following the guidelines and being, again, very proactive.

The one I was looking at just a little bit earlier is not allowing anybody other than the customer who is being serviced with their hair at that time to come into the building. So, I feel very good about the businesses following those guidelines.

What I`d see like to open next, in Trousdale County, we`re very small. So a lot of the businesses we have were already able to keep operating due to being essential services, grocery stores, gas stations, those kind of things.

So, I think just staying there where they right now or even just gradually opening up based on the data at the time, I think that`s what we`re going to see as we go forward. But, as I said, a lot of our businesses have been very proactive in taking those steps to follow the CDC guidelines.

KORNACKI: You mentioned this too as well, the numbers coming from a prison in your county.

There have been more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the virus in your county. Almost all of those, as you mentioned, are from the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, where about half of the prison population -- that`s a population of 2,500 inmates -- about half of that population has tested positive.

Those numbers -- and I have seen numbers like this in prisons around the country, just this explosion of cases there.

I`m curious, how did it get into the prison? What`s your sense of that? And has that come with -- has an infection rate like that in a prison, has it come with a high death rate? What does that look like?

CHAMBERS: Exactly how it got into the prison, that`s being -- the contact tracing and everything is done through the state Department of Health, so, right now, I`m not sure exactly how it got into the prison.

It was either an inmate that got medical care in another facility and then came back or a staff member. But, right now, I don`t really know.

As far as the death rates, there was one death of an inmate early Monday morning. The cause of death is still not determined. So I don`t know that that was COVID-related or not. He did have some other health issues.

But, aside from that, we have had one death in the community about a month ago. So, our death rate -- I mean, we have had two deaths. So, so far, from what we have seen at the prison testing, just the one from the gentleman on Monday, and the vast majority of those inmates right now are asymptomatic.

So I`m hoping that stays that way. But if there are inmates that need to be transported, our emergency medical services are standing by, and we`re ready to transport those inmates or work with other surrounding counties in the state to get any large number they would require transported to a proper medical facility.

KORNACKI: It`s been one of the interesting things. The numbers from prisons have been so disturbing. And any of the deaths obviously are terrible.

But seeing this mass testing in some of these prisons where there have been outbreaks, and, as you mentioned there, the high number of asymptomatic in those prison populations, I think that`s been an interesting data point as we process all this information.

Mayor Stephen Chambers, thank you very much. Appreciate you joining us.

And up next, NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel takes us to Italy, which is in the process of slowly beginning to reopen.

We`re back after this.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

Italy is coming out of its lockdown, the longest in all of Europe, after two months with most of the country shut down and travel severely restricted.

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has the latest from Milan -- Richard.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Steve, I`m now in the city of Milan in day two of Italy`s phase two as it is coming out of its total lockdown. Italy was the first government to impose a nationwide lockdown, closing schools, closing shops, closing restaurants, and now, it is easing up some of those restrictions but doing it gradually.

Yesterday, I was in Rome yesterday, and there`s a difference in the mood and the feeling in Milan versus Rome. Rome wasn`t nearly as hard hit by COVID-19, and you got a sense in Rome that people were waiting for this to happen. They couldn`t wait to come out and the parks were full, people were out, people were trying to go to the bars and go to the restaurants. They`re only open now for delivery service or takeaway.

So, you can go there, order what you want, which a lot of restaurant owners were complaining to me, it`s not really the way Italian food is served. You can`t get a hot plate of pasta and sort of take it away in a cardboard box, they are saying it`s not part of the tradition, so they weren`t sure how it was going to work. But they were still excited that things are changing.

Here, Milan, this whole area, was hit much harder, people are considerably more nervous, so, not as many people on the streets. But what is interesting, I think, Steve, as everyone is going through this collective experience around the world and trying to balance this or strike the balance between closing and public health and opening the economy.

Italy is now starting to see some real divisions. It is not just the United States that is divided. The region of Calabria, which is in the south, they are now trying to go against government policies. They want to open much, much faster. In fact, they say they`ve had enough with all of the government closure, they want to open the bars, they want to open the restaurants now. They don`t want to wait any further.

And Italy, at the peak of the crisis, all the regions here effectively surrendered their sovereignty. They surrendered their rights to the central government, because they decided they needed to have a federal policy. But now, as the policy is changing and the policy is heading towards a reopening, those regions are starting to try to take back some of their rights and Calabria and others, Sardinia in particularly, say they want to go a lot quicker and they say that they`ve had enough of giving all of their powers over to the central government.

They`re not armed protests, they`re not major people gathering in front of the state capitol capitols, but you are seeing some of those state -- those big -- that same tension starting to emerge here like we`ve been seeing in the United States, as well -- Steve.


KORNACKI: All right. Thank you to NBC`s Richard Engel there in Milan, Italy.

And still ahead, we`re going to talk to one of the many high school principals who are finding creative and truly heartfelt ways to give graduating students the recognition they deserve. You`re going to want to see this.

Stay with us.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

Did you know this? Today is Teacher Appreciation Day. And while schools throughout the country have been closed for weeks now, teachers have gone above and beyond to make sure their students are still taken care of.

There was the teacher in South Dakota who drove to his student`s house to show her how to do a math problem from outside her window. There was the first grade teacher down in Florida who came to visit one of her students who was having a hard day. "The New York Times" points out, across the country, high school teachers, administrators, are going out of their way to recognize their seniors as the coronavirus pandemic has closed is schools and forced the cancellation of proms and graduation ceremonies.

Schools are honoring seniors with personalized yard signs and drive-through parades. The principal of West Craven High School in Vanceboro, North Carolina, Tabari Wallace, spearheaded a parade of teachers, administrators and members of the community across 485 miles for his 220 graduating seniors.

And Tabari Wallace, former Principal of the Year in North Carolina, joins me now.

Thank you, Mr. Wallace. I`ll treat you as a principal there are for joining us.

Explain what this exactly was that you did. You, and you got some teachers together and some other folks together, and you made sure to pay a visit to each one of the graduating seniors. How did this work?

TABARI WALLACE, WEST CRAVEN HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: Yes. Because our area is so expansive, what we did was we got all of our teachers together and we got a lot of community members, board members, fire department, police department and we all got together to make sure that we spread out in teams to make sure we can get to everybody within a four-hour span. So, we wanted to make sure we blessed every child with their own personalized parade to serve as a bridge until we can get them across the traditional stage, hopefully in August. If it doesn`t lift by then, we have a plan for December.

KORNACKI: You know, I`m looking at, we`re showing some of the scenes there for this makeshift graduation, whatever we want to call it. I`ve seen a lot of smiles there, I`m getting a sense a lot of the kids you encountered, their families were happy to see some people.

WALLACE: Yes. We had a lot of tears. A lot of tears of joy. We haven`t seen each other in six weeks, going on seven now. And when we saw each other again, it just lit a fire in us, that we can get through this, we can persevere through this, that we will continue through this together.

And the end of this will be the culminating event, in every child`s event in 13 years of education, that they will be able to enjoy the pomp and circumstance of getting across that stage. And those signs that you see the babies holding right there will set in their yard and will serve as a reminder every time they go back and forth at their house that we will get them across that stage and they will endure the pandemic.

KORNACKI: Tell us what this has done to the kids you work with, the kids you know there. I mean, their school year abruptly ended. You had sports teams, I`m sure they were preparing for tournaments. They had their dreams kind of just fizzle there. They couldn`t pursue them.

All these major sort of rite of passage moments -- you talk about not just graduation, but the prom. You talk about these major moments that happen to kids at that age that last a lifetime. That maybe just respect going to happen this year, what has it done to the kids that you know and deal with?

WALLACE: It has created a void in their life right now, and for the first time as their principal in a school, I can`t fix it. I mean, can`t control the pandemic. It`s outside the school walls.

So, right now, we`re using each other to come together and coalesce to make sure we depend on each other to get through this. I don`t know if you know, but here in North Carolina, we had to endure Hurricane Florence where 55 inches of rain tell us, and we were out of our schools, some of us, for longer than 40 days. We also had to share our schools with the elementary pattern that we have. So you had two schools, an elementary and a high school all together.

This is the seniors. They`ve already been through it all, and then they come here at the end, where it`s supposed to be over and they`ve endured to the end and the pandemic came.

So, it`s a big void in our children`s lives. The least we can do is to let them know we`re here with them. That`s why it was so much emotion going on during that day.

When the parents heard we were still going to pursue graduation a little later, it would be delayed but we`re still going to do it, that`s when the parents began to cheer up. And our kids also get their prom, Steve. They will get their prom after graduation, 7:00 that night.

KORNACKI: There you go. So, that will still happen.

Quick final question, whenever this all passes, and there`s treatment, a vaccine, do you think high school will still be the same or is it going to change in any profound way?

WALLACE: I have never prayed so hard for my government. I have never prayed so hard for the scientists and the great doctors we have in the United States of America. Our future is dependent on their speed and developing this vaccine or some form of treatment where we can all gather together. School will look totally different in August if we don`t get that done during the summer, because you can`t space out 30 kids in a classroom in the spaces we have allotted.

So, right now, we`re looking at half the kids coming, and half the kids doing digital learning and switching on the next day. So, we`ll have half the kids in school.

So we`re trying to gear up, we`re just (INAUDIBLE) from the side, so we`re kind of flying this plane while we`re building it. But now, we`re being proactive in regards to next year just in case that we don`t come up with a cure in time for school next year.

KORNACKI: All right. We are all hoping and praying for that breakthrough.

But in the meantime, congratulations on coming up with some very creative and meaningful there, and good luck to you.

Tabari Wallace, thank you for joining us. Appreciate that.

WALLACE: Thanks.

KORNACKI: And up next, how celebrities and public figures are helping high school and college seniors celebrate their graduation. Stay with us.


KORNACKI: Well, we were just talking about this with schools canceling graduation ceremonies. Some celebrities and public figures are giving virtual commencement speeches. Take a look.


TIM COOK, APPLE, INC. CEO: Graduates, I`m sorry that we`re not celebrating together today. Your class is a special one, marked by history like few others in OSU`s 150 years. I hope you wear these uncommon circumstances as a badge of honor.

RYAN REYNOLDS, ACTOR, PRODUCER, ENTREPRENEUR: One that`s worked for me is practicing some form of compassion every day, whether it`s for yourself or someone else, especially for someone else is good. Empathy has got me so much more, so much farther in not only my life but in my career. Mirroring, empathizing, validating someone else`s experience or point of view is just about the most radical act of ambition that you can ever demonstrate.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR, FILMMAKER: But your after is not going to look the same as your during or as your before. You`ll have made it through the time of the great sacrifice and great need, and no one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our measure of normalcy than you -- you chosen ones.